Natural Moral Law

  • Created by: Mjuskiw
  • Created on: 23-06-21 18:28

Natural Moral Law

Key part of Catholic moral teaching

Aquinas - main scholar

adapted from Aristotle - believed everything has a telos (purpose). Fulfil your purpose and you flourish.

God designed humans in his likeness and therefore gave humans an instinctive understanding of what's right and wrong.

Absolute, universal, immutable and deontological

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Summarised NML and the puropse of humans to 'do good and avoid evil'. As God created humans, only when humans fulfil their purpose do they glorify God. For Aquinas and Christians, the ultimate purpose of humanity is to be closer to God/eternal life with God.

Scholastic - believed you could find out what is moral through revelation (the Bible) and natural theology.

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Primary Precepts

Fundamental principles revealed by God:

1. Preservation of Life

2. Reproduction

3. Education

4. To live in society

5. To worship God

A morally good action is one that fulfils one of these precepts and bad if it breaks them. Aquinas believed from these we could work out rules to help fulfil our purpose.

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Secondary Precepts

Each primary prescept leads to actions we shouldn't do. Using this logic, we can work out secondary precepts.

E.g. do not murder - fulfils primary precept of preserving life.

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Exterior and Interior Acts

for an action to be good, the intention must be good.

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Real and Apparent Goods

If we are given purpose why do we fail sometimes?

Aquinas argues we sometimes misuse our reason and follow apparent goods e.g. drinking too much may feel pleasurable but can go against the primary precept of the preservation of life.

Real goods will allow us to flourish.

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Cardinal virtues and vices

Aquinas believes if we are virtuous we will fulfil our purpose (stolen form Aristotle)

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"Ever since the creation of the world, his deity has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made." Romans 1:20 (St Paul)

"The natural Law states the first and essential precepts which govern the moral life" CCC 1965

"Man has a natural inclination to know the truth about God and to live in society; and in this respect whatever pertains to this inclination belongs to the natural law" Aquinas

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Strengths and Weaknesses


  • Simple
  • Universal guide to morality
  • Accessible through reason


  • Doesn't allow for moral flexibility in certain situations
  • Could justify seemingly immoral actions e.g. ****** to reproduce.
  • Fails the Is-Ought gap. Even if NML comes from God, that does not mean we ought to follow it.
  • Relies on a belief in God.
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